At Work

Generosity – More Than Money Can Buy

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Generosity is a virtue well known to Christians, if not always lived out. The Bible teaches us in many verses to be generous to those in need (2 Cor. 9:6-9 is a prominent example).

What people often take this to mean in practice, though, is that they should just write checks (the more the better) to their churches and charities. There’s nothing wrong with donating to churches and charitable organizations, but to define generosity so narrowly—as giving money alone—is a mistake. Every person has something of value to give, and we always have the opportunity to be generous to others, regardless of financial resources.

Gifts to Keep On Giving

In a recent study of American generosity, Patricia Snell Herzog and Heather E. Price examine the state of giving in America – who gives, how much, in what ways, and so on. They categorize forms of giving into nine types: the “Big 3” (financial giving, volunteering, and political activity “on behalf of charitable causes”) and six others (blood donation, organ donation, estate giving, environmentally sustainable consumption, possession lending, and relational giving to friends and family).

The first three are the “most common forms” of giving, the authors note, but they are not comprehensive of the realm of generosity, as shown by the other six categories. Altogether, there are many ways to give that do not require money.

One kind of nonfinancial giving that is especially likely to never be in low demand is volunteer service. Nonprofits and philanthropic entities may have a small core of paid, full-time staff members to administrate, but they largely rely upon the money and labor of volunteers to realize their vision. Even if you don’t have a great deal of money to give, volunteering to tutor struggling kids or help set up/clean up for an event is equally worthwhile.

Moreover, we are always in a position to lend relational support to those with whom we are in close proximity (friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.). We see some people every day and can interact with them on a surface level, but we can also be part of their lives in more substantive ways. Some examples from Herzog and Price include inviting others into our homes, looking after their children if the opportunity arises, and helping neighbors with household jobs.

The above examples of giving are not meant to be exhaustive, but to show that generosity can take many forms beyond money. We can never point to a meager bank account as an excuse for why we cannot give.

Giving in the Bible

It is easy to say there are many ways to give other than money, but is it biblical?

Notably, many of the Bible’s passages on giving focus on the importance of having a generous and charitable spirit rather than specifying the form. For example, in Deuteronomy 15:10 Moses enjoins the Israelites,

Give generously to [the poor] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.

Give generously…but give what? Money? Food? Clothing? Physical labor? Emotional support? The verse doesn’t say, allowing the form of giving to be determined by whatever the situation demands. This open-ended understanding of giving is made explicit a couple verses earlier, where Moses instructs the Israelites to give the poor “whatever they need.”

Several other verses also emphasize the importance of giving without saying what it should look like (Prov. 3:28, 11:24-25, 21:25-26, 28:27; Matt. 6:2-4, 2 Cor. 9:6-9). Granted, some passages do specifically mention giving food or clothing (Prov. 22:9, Luke 3:11), but given the preceding verses this should not be taken to mean that these are the only acceptable forms of giving. Rather, the salient point is that “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25).

Something in My Hand I Bring

Having said all this, just because generosity can take many forms does not mean giving money is unimportant or to be casually neglected. In fact, Herzog and Price report that many Americans who don’t give money have sufficient resources to do so:

Forty percent of nonpoor Americans donated none of their income in the previous year [2009]; an additional 50 percent gave only a small amount, 3 percent or less of their income.

Meanwhile, some Americans who do manage to give money aren’t well off themselves:

Giving 1 to 3 percent and more than 10 percent [of income] is slightly more likely for poor Americans. Given the many fixed costs of living, the sacrifice related to donating 1 percent or more of their income is higher for people in poverty than others giving at this level. Looking at the snapshot in this light demonstrates the tremendous generosity that can be found among those with the least financial resources and the overall thinness of generosity among many with more financial resources.

It is not inexcusable to refrain from giving money if one’s finances are limited, but think carefully about whether some of your “needs” are actually thinly disguised wants. Even if it would be truly imprudent for you to give money, do not let this impede your sense of generosity, for God has given us so much to give others that is not captured in a few dollars.

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